SLI Plan prohibits outdoor alcohol

by Rachel Osterman | 6/25/01 5:00am

With little fanfare and to significant consternation, the administration announced that Safety and Security officers will begin frequent and unannounced monitoring of Greek and Undergraduate Society houses and that outdoor consumption of alcohol is now banned at these locations.

The announcement, which was made by members of the Office of Residential Life staff, came at a meeting of Greek social chairs and presidents on Friday afternoon to the surprise of apparently everyone in the Greek leadership. It amounts to one of the most sweeping decisions that have come out of the Student Life Initiative and, if student opinion remains constant, could prove to be among the most unpopular and controversial Initiative-related moves to date.

The new policy is based on an SLI principle encouraging more consistency among all types of residential buildings, ranging from dormitories to Greek organizations to affinity houses. Under the new rules, common areas in historically independent Greek and undergraduate societies will face similar supervision as common spaces in dorms.

Members of the administration said the new policy is also rooted in safety concerns, particularly alcohol-related ones that have come into increased focus in the last several years. ORL said the S&S walk-throughs will help identify such potential safety hazards as broken pipes and overflowing toilets.

"It's straight out of the Student Life Initiative," said Assistant Dean of Residential Life Cassie Barnhardt. "As various committees have done their work, one of the things that has been identified is that there has been some inconsistency about such things as open containers of alcohol. So that was kind of a logical step."

The move to increase the frequency of monitoring houses comes after new funds infused into the S&S budget allowed for the hiring of more staff, according to ORL. The decision to ban outdoor consumption of alcohol is based on a desire to equalize standards for Greek and non-Greek students living on campus.

"You can't stand in front of Mass Row with a beer, why should you be allowed to stand outside anywhere else on campus with a beer?" said Dean of Residential Life Martin Redman.

But just how strictly the new rules will be enforced remains unclear. Redman said some exceptions, such as Alpha Delta fraternity's annual lawn party, will be permitted so long as they are registered events.

"If it's a registered event, it's my guess that it would fall into the exception category," he said.

Still, the administration appears to be set on the nuts and bolts of the new policy.

"All our houses are recognized by the institution, and with that recognition comes privileges and also agreements. Because we are a private institution and choose to recognize our fraternities and sororities, there are some issues they need to abide by," Barnhard said, adding: "There's definitely conversations we can have to make it more agreeable, but the basic decision is finalized."

One of the most ambiguous aspects of the new policy is how punishments will be handed out if S&S officers find students in violation of alcohol rules. Redman said that although the details on such matters have yet to be fine-tuned, violations will probably be handled similarly to how they are currently treated.

"If a student is found drinking a beer, there's umpteen variables. Is it an individual's beer? Is it house beer? Is it part of a party? There's the question of whether it's an organizational issue," Redman said. "It will fit into existing policy."

Students immediately characterized the decision as unilateral and criticized the administration for not involving students in the policy-making process. (See related article, page 1.)

But administrators said the decision -- which was made by ORL, the Dean of the College Office, and S&S -- incorporated informal conversations involving students since the beginning of the SLI and that they were within reason.

"The administration's job is to make decisions. Based upon my casual conversations with students over time, it's not the kind of thing students are going to support," Redman said. "It's an issue of institutional responsibility.

Redman also said the Greek Life Steering Committee, which included 12 student members, proposed a ban on outdoor consumption of alcohol in its soon-to-be released report.

"When people see the Greek Life Steering Committe report, they'll see that there was a similar recommendation," he said.

Responding to a common student criticism that the decision was announced at the very start of summer term -- a time when Greek leaders have had only a couple of days of leadership experience and three quarters of the undergraduate population is absent -- both Redman and Barnhardt said there was no intention to maneuver the new policy.

Rather, they said, the decision was announced last Friday because it had just been agreed upon and because Summer term is a time of frequent outdoor alcohol consumption on the part of sophomores who are largely underage.

Redman said there are heightened safety concerns in the summer.

"Many of the houses aren't even full. We in some sense have more of a risk when buildings are half-empty," Redman said. "From a logical standpoint, if you're going to do it, let's do it."

Barnhardt added: "The policy is going to stay the same no matter what. We have the staff and resources now, we're ready to go. Why wait?"